Iran accepts extra inspections of nuclear sites

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A senior Iranian official said yesterday that his country had accepted an increase in inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and was temporarily suspending uranium enrichment.

Hasan Rowhani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, made the announcement before meeting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. He said Iran wanted to earn "greater trust from the international community". Iran has been subjected to intense international pressure over fears that it intended to use a Russian-built nuclear reactor to help it to develop atomic weapons.

Mr Rowhani said Iran had sent a letter to the IAEA agreeing to stepped-up inspections. The agency in Vienna could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

But Mr Putin and Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, indicated satisfaction with his statement and suggested it cleared the way for further lucrative Russian-Iranian nuclear co-operation. Iran's concessions had been widely expected, although the timeframe had been vague. By making the announcement in Moscow, Mr Rowhani bolstered the diplomatic prestige of the Kremlin, which had taken a position between Washington and Tehran in the dispute.

Russia had joined the United States in urging Iran to accept tighter controls. But the Kremlin resisted all calls from Washington to freeze its $800m (£480m) deal to help to build Iran's first nuclear power plant, at Bushehr. Russia dismissed as nonsense American concerns that Iran would use the project as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

"Atomic weapons are not important to our defence doctrine," Mr Rowhani said yesterday.

The additional protocol would allow IAEA inspectors to make snap inspections and extend their examination of Iranian nuclear activities that had previously been off-limits. Tehran says it has enriched uranium only to non-weapons levels, as part of peaceful nuclear programmes intended to produce power as its oil stocks decline. (AP)